Friday Five: Things I Believe to be True about Bullying
Prompted by the horrifying story of Phoebe Prince, Carrie Jones and Megan Kelley Hall have started a new Facebook page–Young Adult Authors Against Bullying. Either at this page, or on blogs, or anywhere people feel like they can and should speak out, these authors are inviting people to share stories, feelings, and ideas for change.
I’ve joined the Facebook page, and I’ve been reading blogs. I don’t usually use my blog for this kind of focus, but it’s been getting harder and harder for me to just sit here and read and not do or say something. I’ve been lucky–I haven’t experienced much bullying in my lifetime, and the amount my son lived through, he lived through well (I believe, with our help and the help of some teachers) and has come out stronger on the other side of it. (And, yes, as Carrie said on her blog, he’s read what I’m writing & has given me permission to post this.) Does this mean that the little bit I experienced was acceptable? No. Does that mean it’s a good thing for my son to have experienced any at all, because he survived and survived beautifully? It does not. It’s something he shouldn’t have had in his life, ever, at all.
Here are five things I believe about bullying:
1. Bullying has always been around. The internet has given it another forum, one that, I think, makes it easier for the bullying to stay hidden longer, but this kind of cruelty is not new. All this means to me is that we should have learned better by now how to deal with it.
2. Bullying is one of the hardest things in their lives for a kid to talk about. So guess what? Adults have to start the conversation. Adults have to make sure bullying is defined at home, in schools, on the playground before the bullying starts. And they have to define the consequences for the bullies, then make sure those consequences happen. Visibly.
3. Names do hurt. Sticks and stones hurt, too, but they leave clear marks and wounds that an adult can see and respond to. We have to look a lot harder for the hurt that names cause. We have to.
4. Bullying continues. When a bully has been successful, when no real consequences have been assigned to their actions, they will keep going. And the worst thing about bullying, the reason it hurts so much, is that it doesn’t stop. The person being bullied does not get a break. Think about erosion, water against stone. It’s exhausting.
5. Adults–parents and teachers–need to lower the bar on what bullying means. Too much bullying is given a milder name–“teasing,” “joking,” when none of it is funny. The word bullying has power today–use it. If you think a child you know is going through this, put the word into action–say it out loud in a phone call, send it via email, and then follow-up. Don’t allow anyone to minimize what’s going on, to tell you there’s nothing to do, to ask you to wait for things to blow over. Just don’t.
I’m not sure what this blog post will do. I’m not sure what any of the blog posts, or the Facebook page, will do, but I think they’re important. Because the worse thing any of us can do is be silent.
I think there used to be a sense of inevitability about bullying; it was seen as a rite of passage that just had to be endured. But in recent years, there has been pushback on that, and I’m glad. We’ve been questioning this, refusing to accept it. Things don’t have to be this way.
I’m not sure what effect anything I write, anywhere, on any subject, has, but I look at it this way: our words are raindrops. Each one may seem small and doesn’t even dent the earth by itself. Yet together, drops fill lakes.
–Exactly, Jen. I know if I don’t say anything, nothing happens. If we talk, maybe things will change.
I think the best we can do as parents is to be sure to talk to our kids about how to handle it. Make sure they know everyone deals with it at some point and those bullies are nothing but kids with low self esteem who have to attack others to feel worthwhile themselves. Bring the bully down to a “his opinion is worthless” level and it’s less harmful to a child’s psyche.
We’ll never stop it, either in childhood or adulthood. They’ll always be there. Sometimes the best weapon truly is a good defense.
The tricky part is, I think, the timing–because it’s so hard for them to talk about, we can’t know when the dicussion/talk is going to matter/help. Which means finding the balance of repeating but not overwhelming!
I really appreciate this blog post, Becky. It’s so important for me, as a parent, to read. Thank you!
PJ, thanks! I have to tell you, for the bit we went through, the only thing that hurt me more than when I was bullied (a little), was watching my son go through it. And the hardest part was that-as much as I try to be on top of what’s going on–it was happening for way too long before I had a clue. Or the teachers. Sigh.
Well said. The teachers I’ve most admired over the years have spent extra in-class time on “community building.” Talking about the important of respect, tolerance, compassion in the classroom, the playground, the lunch room, the bus.
It isn’t required curriculum, it won’t show up on any of the standardized tests, but those lessons may be the most important values they learn all year.
James, I think those teachers are wonderful & yes, those discussions need to happen. I personally think the schools need to get more specific, as well, and talk directly about bullying, about what it is, and what should and WILL be done at the school if/when it happens.